My eight-year-old son has piled on the pounds over the summer, and I don’t know if or how to tackle the subject of his weight. I don’t want to make him feel bad. Please help!
Fatima, Al Garhoud
You’ve often heard the phrase, ‘a fat child becomes a fat adult’. All too often this adage is true, but only because parents fail to tackle their tubby tweens in the correct and healthy manner, says Christina Doublichevitche, a clinical dietician at the Health Bay Polyclinic in Umm Suqeim.
According to Christina, chubby children are often the casualty of parents who do not follow healthy eating habits themselves, and treating a portly couch potato is a family affair and not something that can be placed on the child’s shoulders alone.
‘Treating children who are overweight is a very sensitive issue, because the last thing you want to do is single them out and make them feel bad,’ explains Christina. ‘Even if only one child in the family is overweight, and the siblings are slim and able to eat junk and not put on weight, you need to improve eating habits for everyone.’ She adds, ‘Ultimately, the family’s habits have to be changed. And you can’t feed one child salad while you allow another child pizza, so you might as well just clean your pantry out and start again with healthy alternatives.’
She advises that children should not be put on rigid diets, but should follow healthy eating plans, and that if parents are concerned about tubby Tommy’s expanding girth, they can even book a session with a dietician without the child knowing anything about it. ‘Children should never be put on strict diets. They should be given healthy eating plans that allow for the odd treat and fulfil all their calorific needs sensibly. Dieticians aim for either a slight – and very slow – weight loss, or a diet that maintains their current weight. This is because a child can grow 10cms taller in a year, and if their weight remains the same, they will actually grow into it.’
Getting your little chubster to run about for an hour a day will help their bulge battle tremendously, but it has to be a family effort, she says. ‘If one child has to do a gym session, they should all do a gym session. Do one active hour with them a day, whether it’s getting on your bikes and cycling to the local shops, or playing basketball with dad, a swimming session or a game of football in the park.’
And though fizzy drinks, sugar-filled fruit juices, candy and refined carbs should be outlawed in the case of chubby children, the odd naughty treat (with a healthy slant) should be encouraged to sweeten the deal. ‘Smoothies and shakes made with real fruit or good quality chocolate and low-fat milk, frozen yogurt, or a bowl of fruit salad with a scoop of ice cream are okay, two to three times a week. Low-fat brownies cooked at home are also good, as are oatmeal cookies.’ We’re convinced already.
Christine Doublichevitche is a clinical dietician at the Health Bay Polyclinic in Umm Suqeim, 04 348 7140; www.healthbaypolyclinic.com.